Thousands of Nigerians on Wednesday, November 27, stormed the National Assembly in Abuja to ask the Senate to drop the bill to regulate the social media in Nigeria.
The protesters are also against the continued detention of the human rights activists, Omoyele Sowore and Olawale Bakare.
They described the bills as a grievous infringement on the constitutional right to free speech.
The protesters noted that the Senate was aiding and abetting full-grown dictatorship in the country by proposing death penalty for offenders.
Armed policemen have been stationed at strategic locations within the National Assembly complex.
The protesters vowed not to allow any vehicular and human movement in and out of the complex.
The bill, which was sponsored by Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Sabi Abdullahi, among other penalties seeks death for those the government deems guilty of hate speech.
The two senators who addressed the protesters pledged that despite the bill being sponsored by their colleague, the Senate would do the bidding of Nigerians.
The protest started around 9:25 a.m. Wednesday.
Two groups, Take It Back Movement and Concerned Nigerians, championed the protest.
Asides the primary demand of the Senate stepping down the social media and the hate speech bills, the protesters also asked the federal government to obey court orders by releasing Omoyele Sowore and other journalists who are held for critiquing state authorities.
They hoised placards which among other inscriptions read: “If you can’t stand the smoke. Get out of the kitchen”, “Only a repressive regime muscles the media”, “#SayNoToSocialMediaBill, we are not in tyranny century”, “If we can’t say what we think, in a democratic society, then it is not democracy”, “Do not gag me”, “Free Sowore”.
The protest began at the left flank of the National Assembly entrance as the protesters with their placards sang songs of solidarity.
They called out the names of each of the 109 senators, chorusing “Shut it down” — referring to the two bills, the social media bill and the hate speech bill.
While addressing journalists, Deji Adeyanju, one of the conveners of the protest, said the action would, henceforth, be frequent.
He said apart from the protests, there would be online actions which would involve sending text messages, calling and sending mails to every senator.
He added that this would be followed by “individual name shaming and picketing. We will assign tasks to different members (of our group) to go to their (the senators) homes. Let their children see what their parents are doing.”
He faulted the decision to adopt Singapore’s version of the same bill. He said the Asian country is not a democratic state.
“No going back. Nigerian is in need of voices of reason, voices of courage, voices of integrity. Not the integrity of someone we all know. These two bills are anti-people bill. They are not necessary. The reason for this is because the Cybercrime Law already has a provision for all of these.”
On his part, another leader of the protest, Henry Shield, also chided the legislators for not adopting “progressive bills” like the healthcare bill of the United States and other bills of note that would address the challenges facing Nigerians.
“We insist that the monstrous social media bill and its evil hate speech counterpart have no place in any democratic society, let alone a fledgling democracy like ours. We believe that the bills are satanic and must be totally withdrawn by the ninth Senate with immediate effect.
“As constituents and citizens alike, we believe that the proposed bills suggest that you lawmakers are anti-people and unwilling to either understand the sufferings of Nigerians or even take any meaningful step to mitigate them.
“We, therefore, hope that you will listen to the unanimous voice of Nigerians that these bills have no place in our democracy and must be forever banished to the trash can.”
Senate to do Nigerians’ bidding – Lawmakers
Uba Sani (APC, Kaduna Central) and Yakubu Oseni (APC, Kogi Central) spoke on behalf of the Senate.
The former reassured Nigerians that the leadership of the National Assembly is open to dialogue. He called on Nigerians to attend the public hearing on the bills, in order to air their views on them. The date of the public hearing has not been fixed.
“The law is not about the 109 senators. It is about Nigerians. Democracy is about free speech, it is about rule of law. That is why their voices are extremely important. That is why we believe that your agitation is valid and also in the best interest of our own county. We are going to certainly work with you on the day of the public hearing.
“I have no doubt in my mind, if Nigerians don’t want these bills, even though they are being sponsored by our colleagues, certainly it won’t escape the public hearing. I can assure you we are going to do whatever is in the best interest of our own country. Whatever Nigerians want is what the 9th Senate would do.
“We are aware of section 24 of the Cybercrime Act and some of us are on the same page with these agitations. We are not guided by any political affiliation. We are guided by the law and concerned about the progress of our own country,” Mr Sani assured.
9th Senate not appendage of Executive
Yakubu Oseni, the Senate Chairman on Cybercrime, also affirmed that no bill would be passed without a public hearing, saying laws made by the legislature are for Nigerians and not the Senate.
He debunked the growing concerns among Nigerians that the 9th Senate is an appendage of the Executive.
The concern was fuelled last week when the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, said whatever President Muhammadu Buhari tables before the legislators is believed to be in the interest of the country and would be passed.
“It is not true. If the Senate President said something, we should always check what he said before he said that. I can quote him verbatim.
“He said he knows that ‘Mr president meant well for Nigerians and that whatever he brings and we know that would better the lots of Nigerians, we will not hesitate to pass it through.’ We’re all here to protect the interests of Nigerians.”